Councillor Talukder and Councillor Mann attended the Westminster City Council Cabinet Meeting this evening, along with a number of Ebury Bridge Estate residents. Cllr Mann addressed Cabinet about the proposed plan for full demolition and rebuild of the estate. This is the full text of her speech:
“I’d like to express thanks to the Leader, on behalf of myself and Cllr Talukder, for allowing me to address Cabinet members here this evening as a Council member for Churchill Ward.
I wanted to address you because I want to put forward some of our and many residents’ concerns about the proposed plan for Ebury Bridge Estate and the process that led to it – and also our hopes going forward.
And I wanted to speak because these concerns – which have been both expressed to us directly and between residents themselves – are not concerns that you’ll see in the Cabinet Report before you.
Indeed, that’s my first point: the disparity between the Council’s reports and the views that we have heard. So perhaps we can rely on data and statistics to get some clarity. But I have gone through the Cabinet Report and the Engagement Report, and I completely fail to see in either of them any concrete evidence, any data or statistics, that show that the majority of Ebury residents support this proposed plan for their estate. Indeed, the only concrete numbers given about resident feedback is that, after all these months of engagement – 80% engagement! – only 59 residents – consisting of 56 secure tenants (because tenants who aren’t secure have no say) and a mere three resident leaseholders – support this scenario being proposed tonight. 59 people on an estate of 217 occupied households.
This lack of evidence of majority resident support for this plan is one reason why we as a Labour Group continue to ask for a full residents’ ballot on it. From the very start, we have asked for a meaningful, resident-led consultation process and, at the end of that, a ballot. Back in 2013, the Council agreed with us: you gave Ebury residents a ballot, which resulted in a turnout of over 60% and a clear majority in favour of the plan. That plan was then scrapped – due to the Council’s failings – and yet now, later down the line in the same estate regeneration process, and through no fault of their own, residents are told they are not allowed a ballot. What’s changed? The Council has never explained. And what’s more: if the Council is confident that Ebury residents back this new plan, then why won’t they hold a ballot to prove it? The Council’s proposal is full demolition and rebuild of the estate – everyone’s home will be demolished. In such a situation, we believe it would be entirely wrong not to give every household the right to have their say in a ballot before it goes ahead.
The Council says in its reports that it has had “collaborative dialogue” and “meaningful engagement” with residents during a “transparent” consultation process. But again, much of what we have seen and heard does not back this up. For example, Ebury residents were presented with eight scenarios for their estate regeneration – yet some of these scenarios failed the viability assessment set by the Council itself. Which begs the question: why were they even presented to residents in the first place? This is not collaborative, meaningful or transparent to me; and it is no way to build trust with residents.
The cost of this consultation – which had to start anew after the initial botched plan – is just one part of the financial cost of all of this, too. Last year, Labour found that over £30million had been spent on the Ebury regeneration so far, without a brick being laid. It will only have risen, and continue to rise. I’d like to venture that the Council could mitigate some of these costs by applying to the Mayor of London for funding – but that would, of course, require them to hold a ballot.
More important than the financial cost, though, is the human cost. Ebury Bridge was first earmarked for regeneration in 2010 – meaning that for eight years, residents and retailers have been living with it hanging over them: causing incredible stress, anxiety and uncertainty. And they have been living on an estate that’s been falling into disrepair – with no major works being carried out for over 10 years. It’s also an estate that’s increasingly empty – the Council’s own figures show that Ebury is currently around 35% vacant, and you only have to walk around to see the growing number of windows and doors covered by Sitex, where people have not only lost neighbours but are also not having new ones move in. Residents have been given no support for the mental health issues caused by all this – and yet the Equality Impact Assessment shows that many of them are especially vulnerable or have specific needs. Nearly a quarter of the residents on the estate are children; 10% of residents are elderly; 63% are from BAME communities and 8% have a long-term illness or disability. We ask that going forward, all necessary mental health and other specific support is immediately put in place.
Finally: We have heard the Council trumpet many a time and often about the amount of social housing that will be created by this regeneration of Ebury Bridge Estate. Labour will always welcome the building of more social and truly affordable housing – but what Westminster Council has failed to highlight about Ebury is that if its proposed plan goes ahead, the percentage of social housing on the estate will be reduced – hugely. Ebury is currently 59% social housing. Depending on which option the Council chooses in the execution of scenario 7, that figure will be reduced to 38% or even 34%. And even if I’m being generous by adding ‘intermediate’ to that, under the Council’s umbrella of ‘affordable’ housing, it still only brings the figure up to 45%. The Council and its officers have openly spoken about how special the community and the ‘spirit’ of Ebury is – they’re right, and I’d argue that this spirit and community is intrinsically linked to its mix of residents. So make no mistake: if this plan goes ahead as it is currently proposed, social tenants will go from being a majority on Ebury Bridge Estate to being the minority – and the makeup of its community will be forever changed.
I’d like to end by bringing us back to where I began: on the disparity between what is being presented to the Cabinet tonight and the views and feelings that residents have expressed to each other and to us.
On that front, we ask that, if the Council proceeds with this proposed plan, you let the recently formed Residents Association lead the liaising with residents on Ebury. The Residents Association has been set up by the residents themselves – not by the Council; it follows the Council’s ‘model constitution’; as of March, it had 126 members; and it is led by engaged people who are passionate about their community – and know and love it deeply.
Ebury residents have been put through the mill for eight years – and they are now about to go through the biggest period yet of extreme stress and upheaval to their lives. Over the coming months and years, a community of neighbours, friends, families and support networks are going to be separated – some for good.
If the Council truly cares about the spirit of Ebury Bridge Estate, then it should aim to create the maximum amount of social housing possible. And going forward, if it truly wants to work with residents in a collaborative way – if it wants to win more than 59 hearts and minds (and I hope it does) – then it needs to let the Residents Association be its guide among those whose lives are about to irrevocably change.